Ischgl is famed for its winter sports and wild après scene, but this Tirolean gem has a summer secret to share. The mountains are covered in world class singletrack, adrenalin pumping downhill, bike parks and enough trail variety to keep beginner to hardcore mountain bikers pedalling. But that is not all, in this review of Ischgl mountain biking holidays I will discuss both fine trails and fine dining.
Ischgl is located in the Paznaun valley in west Austria. Hugging the Swiss border to the South it is also fairly close to Germany and Italy. Part of the Tirol (Tyrol in Austrian) region and surrounded by the Silvretta range (part of the central eastern Alps), Ischgl and its neighbouring villages of Galtür, Kappl and See combine to create a world class destination for year round adventure.
Summer access to this adventure is easy and mostly free, as all overnight stays in Paznaun include the Silvretta Card. This gives you free access to cable cars, chairlifts, public transport, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, a sport and water park, Kids Club and guided themed-walks.
Ischgl mountain biking
Although the activities available in Ischgl range from climbing to rafting, hiking to kayaking and paragliding to relaxation, I visited Ischgl with one thing in mind – mountain biking. There are more than 1200km of bike trails in the area, so the Ischgl maxim “Relax. If you can…” is an alluring tease for anyone that likes to ride.
Being a world class ski resort, a benefit of mountain biking in Ischgl is the ski lifts can be used to get you and your bike up the mountain. The Silvretta Gondola leaves from the centre of Ischgl and links with a chairlift, in combination they take you from 1400m to around 2700m. With two more chairlifts and a gondola from the Swiss resort of Samaun open all summer, the lifts open up a dizzying array of downhill trails without the slog of riding to the top.
For those who like to earn their downhill, or who enjoy reaching the top under their own steam, there are plenty of well maintained trails that have a minimal technical element for rewarding uphill riding.
The trails in Ischgl are graded on the same scale as mountain biking elsewhere, which use the same colour system as ski runs of blue (easy), red (intermediate), and black (advanced). However the system is a little more complex than ski runs as it considers the gradient, technical nature of the trail and the difficulty of the uphills.
All lift passes come with the Bike Arena pack which includes a 1:50,000 map and an extremely good guide book. There is also an app for iPhone and android called iBike, it includes all the routes and live GPS tracking. Alternatively you can download full GPS details to use on a specialist GPS device. However to make the most of an Ischgl mountain biking holiday I recommend you hire a guide, at least for the first few days.
Review of Ischgl mountain biking
Riding full suspension Haibike Sleek CC bikes from Intersport Bruendl I spent two days with Renata from Silvretta Bike Academy. She quickly gauged my ability (and bottle!), then offered tips that helped me corner better and ride faster. I got more from the mountain biking by following a guide, not only because I didn’t have to worry about getting lost, but as she knew what was around each corner and adjusted her speed to my level, I was able to carry more speed as I was not riding into the unknown.
As we rode a few different styles over the two days I will break this review of Ischgl mountain biking into three sections, uphill, downhill and singletrack.
On day one we rode to the Heidelberger Hütte which is on the classic Transalp route from Germany to Italy. Rather than ride from Ischgl we took the Silvretta gondola up to midstation at around 1650m, which saves the steepest part of the climb. From there it is still uphill, still steep, and still tough. The route rises a further 900m on asphalt for the first half and then dirt track for the second.
Riding uphill is part and parcel of the riding I do at home. With no uplift available I have to work for my downhill and I am used to 600m+ of vertical in a ride. However the riding I do is within 500m of sea level and I was hit hard by the altitude on the Ischgl uphills. Although my legs were fine to continue I just could not get enough air into my lungs, which was slightly scary.
The technique that Renata recommended was to take it slow and to stop when I felt the pinch in my lungs. Funnily enough as I got higher I no longer had any problems, although the first third of the climb was certainly the steepest. Looking back the mistake I made was setting off at my normal pace.
The reward (and relief) of reaching the Heidelberger Hütte was beautiful views of the Fluchthorn mountain and a stunning meal to restock the flagging energy stores. From here the Transalp carries on up. It becomes a steep winding singletrack that in sections requires mountain bikers to carry their bikes, their reward is 1600m of descent into Switzerland.
What goes up must come down, and down, and down and down. The 1000m of descent into Ischgl was an exhilarating blur. Unfortunately the heavens opened and we got very wet and muddy, but that is all part of the fun.
As the group had riders of mixed abilities for most of the way down we stuck to easy gravel paths and asphalt. It was easy, but very fast – I clocked 60kph at one point. We split the group towards the end and took on some technical singletrack that was a lot of fun. From the Heidelberger Hütte we could have followed the gravel path to Fimbabach and then taken on some easy singletrack avoiding the asphalt, however heavy rain and some beginners in the group ruled that out.
Of course this kind of riding is not the serious downhill MTB ski resorts are famous for. However there is plenty of that closer to resort and serviced by the lifts. I have included it in the singletrack section in this review of Ischgl mountain biking.
The majority of the technical riding I do is through woods on flowing singletrack with logs and roots as obstacles. There is as much uphill as there is down, so on this Ischgl mountain biking holiday I was looking forward to taking on the downhill singletrack on day two.
After catching the Silvretta gondola all the way to the top, and then a chairlift to around 2700m Renata lead the way to the Alp Trida Enduro Trail. It is graded as blue in the guide book, however Renata said that in current conditions it would be considered a red. It is a beautiful flowing trail, with banked corners, providing 500m of descent over its 4km. The trail although not hugely technical was made more difficult by some snow sections and parts of the path that had been damaged over the winter.
Due to time constrains at the bottom we took the lift back up towards the Austrian side of the mountain. However from here you could instead head over to the Swiss side, which opens up a multitude of trails to explore on the way into Samnaun.
Back at 2700m we started the 1400m descent into Ischgl. Renata had seen enough of my riding to trust me on the Velill Trail an advanced black run that is an Ischgl mountain biking holiday highlight. The top section was very difficult with switchback after switchback, often with steep, uneven lines into them and steep drops adding pressure not to get it wrong.
After a while the Velill trail becomes less challenging and begins to flow. With gentle banked turns, small jumps and the trail flowing away ahead of you, it is possible to pick up decent speed despite the technical nature of the trail. At Vellilalp you can take on an extremely difficult downhill trail or, like us, take a fast gravel road into Prennerhang.
From here there was a little asphalt and then more singletrack into Ischgl. It included some of the trails I had ridden the day before, which due to my increased confidence from applying Renata’s tips were a breeze the second time round.
I only had the time to ride a few trails on this short Ischgl mountain biking holiday, but if had more time I certainly would not have spent it relaxing. The Bike Arena pack contains 21 trails in just Ischgl ranging from 4 to 95km, with more trails available in Galtür, Kappl and See. What struck me was the lack of other mountain bikers, the Transalp was busy but we only shared singletrack with other riders on two occasions.
I would like to thank my guide, Renata, who made the riding an awesome experience. You can book Renata or her husband for a guided Ischgl mountain biking holiday with Silvretta Bike Academy, staying at their chalet with other mountain bikers. You can also book package holidays to Ischgl with Inghams, and tailor made packages with Zenith Holidays.
Ischgl: The town
In winter Ischgl is known for having one of the best après scenes on the planet. In the summer it is more of a relaxed atmosphere. My stay was at the start of the summer season which runs from the beginning of July until the end of September. Being early season the town was on the quiet side, but having said that we still stayed out in a bar until 2am one night. Drink prices are about the same as the UK which was a pleasant surprise.
The town is certainly prettier than many of the purpose built resorts in France. Most of the buildings are new but have been built with their own character but in keeping with existing styles. This is because the majority of the hotels are owned by local families rather than a big multinational corporation.
I popped in the local Spar which has a good selection of food and drink, all at fairly reasonable prices.
Ischgl: Fine dining follows fine trails
I was pleasantly surprised to find out Ischgl is a bit of a foodie destination and has many top quality restaurants. I was fortunate to visit a few of them so here is a run down of the places I ate. Please note I am not a food-expert.
Hotel Alpvita Piz Tasna: This is where we were staying (more below) so we had breakfast here every morning which was nice and included both cooked and continental buffet options. We had dinner here one evening, the head chef Roland Salner has created a range of traditional dishes that use modern techniques and local ingredients to create a gourmet menu that I loved.
Hotel Fluchthorn: We had lunch in this lovely and traditional Tiroleon restaurant in Galtür. The clear soup with cheese dumplings was particularly good, and the food was wholesome mountain fayre that is typical for the region.
Hotel Trofana Royal: The only five star hotel in town it has one of the best chefs in Austria. Martin Sieberer is rated 3 torques and 17 points – I don’t know what that means but his six course menu was exquisite.
Heidelberger Hütte: Located in the Fimbatal valley above Ischgl, this large mountain refuge is on the Transalp route. It is a popular lunch stop for mountain bikers and hikers and you can also stay overnight. Michelin starred, Italian chef Alfio Ghezzi, served Tagliatelle and veal ragout with a parmesan and coffee sauce that was hearty and full of flavour. This dish will be resident here all summer.
Wilderer Hütte: This is cross between a farm, hunting lodge and wildlife park located in Mathon just outside Ischgl. The idea is all ingredients are sourced from on their doorstep. This included venison steaks which were very tasty.
Jamtalhütte: A mountain refuge at the head of The Jam valley which leads up from Galtür. It is quite a trek, however the beer braised beef cheek with textures of onion was wholesome, delicious and well worth and the walk. The dish was cooked by Michelin starred British chef Russell Brown, it will be served here all summer.
Stüva Restaurant at Hotel Yscla: The head chef, Benjamin Parth, was recently crowned Austrian Young Chef of the Year, even my uneducated taste buds could tell why. The dishes are a marriage of art, texture and flavour, looking incredible and often tasting unlike anything I have eaten. Each plate of food had an explanation and often a story behind it, making for an entertaining evening of incredible food that took my taste buds to a new level. Although the entire meal was outstanding the dish I remember most was caviare jelly on top of gin soaked lake trout.
Review of Hotel Alpvita Piz Tasna
There are 365 accommodation options in Ischgl (sounds like a challenge to me), of which 71 are four star or four star superior and one is five star superior. You can check out accommodation options by visiting: www.paznaun-ischgl.com
We stayed in the four star superior Hotel Alpvita Piz Tasna. I am more used to functional than luxury so this was a big step up in quality for me. The room was more of a suite and could easily have slept four, having it all to myself it took me two days before I fully explored it. It comes with everything you would expect from a four star superior hotel, but for me the important things were a very comfy bed, lovely bathroom with high powered shower, and stunning views with a sunny balcony to enjoy them.
The only thing I was not sure about was the fancy system of touch-sensitive switches for the light, radio, aircon and heating. After four days I still did not have full control, and in the middle of the night when trying to turn on a light I was just as likely to switch on the radio.
The Hotel Alpvita Piz Tasna has a wellness centre that includes a pool, sauna, steam room, water beds, aromatherapy room, hot room and if you want to pay extra an array of holistic and massage treatments. I spent a couple of hours relaxing in the wellness centre, including an impromptu nap on a water bed.
The staff were all very friendly which adds the perfect finishing touch to a very good hotel. Rooms are available half board from €75 per person, per night. You can book a stay for your Ischgl mountain biking holiday by visiting their website: www.piztasna.at
Review of Ischgl mountain biking holiday: Conclusions
I had not been to Austria for 20 years, and had never been to the Austrian mountains, but I can say for certain after this trip it will not be another two decades before I return. Ischgl and the Paznaun valley are a beautiful destination, with incredible food, good hotels, and a new adventure around every corner. To top it off the Ischgl mountain biking is varied and world class. Where else can you enjoy fine trails and fine dining?
For more information about Ischgl and the Paznaun valley I recommend you visit the excellent website by the local tourist board: www.paznaun-ischgl.com. At just over an hour away the closest airport is Innsbruck, other options are Zürich and Salzburg at around 3 hours.